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West Belfast derby takes centre stage as hurling leagues recommence

Ciaran Orchin (Rossa) and Paudie Shivers (Dunloy), pictured during last year’s league meeting between the sides, could clash again this Sunday at Shaws Road as the hurling leagues get underway Ciaran Orchin (Rossa) and Paudie Shivers (Dunloy), pictured during last year’s league meeting between the sides, could clash again this Sunday at Shaws Road as the hurling leagues get underway
By Paddy Tierney

ANTRIM and Ulster Intermediate Hurling champions, St Gall’s begin their Division One campaign against West Belfast neighbours St John’s, but they will do so without a manager along the sideline at Corrigan Park (3pm).

The Milltown Row men suffered a 1-13 to 2-4 loss to eventual champions Oranmore-Maree of Galway in their All-Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Championship semi-final in January.

Following a prolonged campaign, the management duo of Mickey Culbert and John Hopkins stepped down and St Gall’s have yet to announce their successors.

They face a tough opening fixture against a St John’s outfit who have been strengthened by the return of Domhnall Nugent.
The dual ace transferred allegiances to Lámh Dhearg in 2016 and won an Antrim and Ulster Junior hurling title with the Red Hands before lining out against St John’s in the 2017 county football decider, which the Hannahstown side won by two points.

St John’s appear best placed to break the North Antrim stranglehold on the Volunteer Cup after taking Cushendall to a replay last year and manager, Tony McNulty says the return of Nugent is a massive boost for the club.

“Domhnall is back and it is a massive boost to us,” said McNulty.

“He is a massive additional to our hurling squad. He is training flat out, he has lost weight and he is getting himself back into shape.

“We think we aren’t far away after seeing how far Cushendall went in the Championship.

“In the first match, we probably should have had them beat. With Domhnall back and a few good minors coming through, we hope we can be challenging again.

“You want to get a good showing in league to lay down a marker and let other teams know we’ll be hard to beat.”

St John’s will be close to full strength for Sunday’s league opener with key attacker Donal Carson set to return before the Championship after missing the Cushendall replay last year after heading to Australia.

Daunting

Rossa, meanwhile, also face a daunting Division One opener as they host 2017 county champions Dunloy on Sunday (3pm).

The Shaws Road men lost out to Loughgiel and St John’s in the group stages of last summer’s Championship having been severely depleted by injuries and absentees.

Gerard Walsh, James Connolly and Déaglán Murphy departed for America for the summer while Christopher McGuinness, Michael Armstrong, Stephen Shannon and Eoghan O’Neill, among others, saw limited action due to injuries.

Rossa boss Colly Murphy, who has taken over the reins from Jim Close, reports his squad to be in rude health, although Déaglán Murphy won’t return to action until later this year.

“We’ve had a good, tough pre-season and everyone is fit and ready to go,” said Murphy.

“Déaglan won’t be home until the end of May, he is at university over there, but Gerard (Walsh) and James (Connolly) are back. Mickey Armstrong recovered from his broken arm after the Carlow game last year and Seaghan Shannon is back following his cruciate injury. We’ve everyone back and ready to go.”

Rossa claimed a surprise victory over the Cuchullains in their league opener last year (3-15 to 2-17), but Murphy insists their sole objective is to consolidate their Division One status.

“I think everybody is at the same level at this time of the year, you’ll have a bit of sparring,” said Murphy.

“At the end of the day, our goal this year is to stay in Division One and to try and get eight points on the board as quickly as we can.”

Two other Belfast clubs will be hoping to join the Division One ranks next season with both Sarsfield’s and Naomh Éanna beginning the 2019 season with new management teams.

Niall McGuinness has taken over from Kevin McKernan at the Bear Pit and they face an opening day trip to North Antrim to face Carey Faughs on Sunday afternoon.

Sarsfield’s have been boosted by the return of Niall McKenna for the 2019 campaign after the dual ace spent last year in England, helping Warwickshire to last year’s Nicky Rackard Cup final.

Naomh Éanna, meanwhile, will have former Antrim manager Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton patrolling the sideline this year after the Cushendall native took over from Tom McGilligan.

The Glengormley side will be first into action this weekend as they take on Clooney Gaels under lights on Friday evening.

Elsewhere, in Division Three St Paul’s face a trip across the city to take on Down side Bredagh at Cherryvale, while West Belfast rivals Gort na Móna and Lámh Dhearg clash at Páirc Mhic Ionnrachtaigh.

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